Cecilia Tell us about your work---what do you do?
I work in an office that advocates for students who identify as African-Americans at Colorado State University . I have worked in the office for 10 years. CSU has a total student population of approximately 23,000. At the end of the current semester, we have about 350 African-American students. We assist these students with their transitions to CSU and throughout their academic careers by providing support and encouragement for their academic, professional, cultural and personal development. We strive to provide a family-like support system made of faculty, staff and student organizations that help students succeed. The office is also committed to improving the cultural and social awareness of the university community, alumni, and the surrounding communities by promoting programs that offer cross-cultural perspectives, and creating mutual opportunities for exchange through cooperative planning and support for all university services. My job is to assist the director and assistant director in areas that are specific to the above. This includes coordinating the annual weekend retreat that is aimed at freshman. This event allows students to meet other students, faculty and staff members and attend various workshops that help with the transition to CSU. I also plan a monthly program called "Knowledge at Noon." I look for various speakers and topics that will enhance the college experience for our students. This involves contacting the speakers, scheduling the date, and getting the information out to students, faculty, staff and community. The following are some programs we have had: "Ins and Outs of Interviewing ," " Business Etiquette ," "Health Questions and Concerns," "Cultural Analysis of Female Slave Narratives," and " African Dance Performance ." I do research via the Internet on various subjects and people. I really enjoy this aspect of my job because as I'm searching, I'm also learning. Working in an academic environment is wonderful because every day you learn something new. The Office of Black Students Services also works alongside our other advocacy offices, such as the Asian/Pacific American Students, Native American Students, and El Centro (Hispanic) Students. I frequently take telephone calls for the director and assistant director and assist with clerical work, such as word processing , filing, scheduling meetings, and in representing our office on campus and in the community in their absence---to name a few of my responsibilities. How did you get started in your career?
I got started in my work in the late 1960s. My first "real" job was as a secretary at a radio station in Rhode Island that was in the top three in its market. A friend of mine was a disc jockey at this station, and he introduced me to his boss (who just happened to be looking for a secretary.) This was a fun job. My desk was right outside the booth where the DJ was doing his live show. One of the fringe benefits was getting free tickets to concerts and lots of albums---I still have albums that are considered collectibles. I wasn't really looking for a career at that time. I was married at a very young age and had my first child at age 20, and my second at age 23. My husband died in a car accident leaving me with two young sons to raise, and I chose to be a stay-at-home Mom. My second job was as secretary to the Director of Student Affairs at Brown University in Rhode Island. The dean was a wonderful man---students on campus loved him---and came to be a good friend. He had great people skills, encouraged me to take on responsibilities, had faith in me, and was a great role model. What experience do you need in this job?
Well, the first thing is to have great people skills and supervisory skills. (I supervise 8-12 students who work 10 hours a week.) You can set the tone for the office and the day. Sometimes the administrative assistant is the first person an outsider has contact with---if you answer the telephone in a grumpy manner, this is not a good thing. Always, always help the person on the other line as much as you can. If I get a call for a students who needs help immediately, the last thing they need is for me to give them the wrong information and the run around, such as sending them to the wrong buildings on campus. It's best to say, "I don't know, but I'll find out for you." Good typing is a must---and not sloppy typing. It's great that we have computers with spell check, but it's still best to proofread your work before you send it out. It is extremely important to be efficient and be able to prioritize and multi-task. You must stay up-to-date with computer technology because it's always changing. Describe your "typical" workday:
My office is a very relaxing environment---we want it this way for our students. We have a lounge with a TV and an area with a microwave oven and fridge so students can have their lunch here. We have computers students can use to work on a paper or to check their Email. A "typical" day: See what programs the office is having and find out what is happening in other offices. Students will come in and just want to chat, meet other students, and do homework. I tell people I'm a surrogate mother, grandmother, chauffeur, sister, and always a friend. If a student is having a problem with a professor, I will first of all calm the student. Then I will let him/her know that we have resources, and we will talk to the professor. If students are having problems with a particular class and need tutoring, we can help them. We also encourage our students to get involved with the community/church. What is the hardest aspect of your job?
Now, we all know that no one is perfect, and there are people out there that are very hard to love. We have students who gossip, spread rumors, lie, etc.---my tolerance for these types of behavior is extremely low. Another hard thing is when you meet students as freshmen, and you've come to know them in the course of four or five years---and then they graduate. I'm glad they are graduating, but they've become like family, and it's hard to let go. What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
Sometimes freshmen come in, and after three weeks, they've decided they want to leave the university. The main reason with African-Americans who grew up in predominantly Black environments is not seeing many other people who look like them. Well, you sit down with this student and convince them to hang in there. And you are always there for them, guiding them along. And four years later they are graduating and ten years later you are still in touch with them. They call to share the excitement of a first job. They call you when they become engaged, invite you to their wedding, and call when they have a child. They see you when they come back to town. This, by far, is the most rewarding thing for me. What are your suggestions for someone considering this field?
First of all, as with any job, you have to love what you do. If you don't like being around people, then don't take a job that puts you into contact with people all day long. Be friendly. If you're between jobs, work for a temporary agency---if you do a great job, the company might offer you a permanent position. Network. Talk to people at your church, health club, library, etc., for job possibilities.